For a long time, the focus on autism has been on the challenges faced by people with autism and their families, while overlooking their amazing abilities and strengths.
Don’t get us wrong. Autism is tough… on everyone. But if people only hear about the tough stuff, it creates a stigma that doesn’t represent the full story.
It’s also important to remember, as Dr. Stephen Shore points out, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” No two cases are the same and overgeneralizations can negatively feed social stigmas, potentially leading to discrimination.
Discrimination isn’t just about people with autism missing out on professional opportunities or being treated fairly. It’s also about us being the ones to miss out on having people with autism in our lives just because we misunderstand what we may see on the surface, or make assumptions based only on statistics without getting to know the people with autism they represent.
Stigmas around any neurodiversity diagnoses may also lead to assessment avoidance. If people are scared of what an ASD diagnosis may mean for the way they’re treated by society, they may miss out on the empowerment being formally diagnosed with autism can provide.
People with autism are going to be people with autism whether they are diagnosed or not. Knowing what’s what can provide benefits such as greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-love. A diagnosis also provides language and direction for helping people with autism understand and advocate for themselves and their unique needs across different environments and relationships.
Let’s explore more about people with autism, including their challenges, their strengths, and some benefits of their neurodiversity we may have already been enjoying without even realizing it!
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that causes persistent challenges in socialization, speech and nonverbal communication and restricted/repetitive behaviors. According to the CDC, 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism, and it is 4 times more common in boys than in girls.
Although ASD is categorized as a developmental disability, most people with autism have an impressive range of superpowers that more people need to know about.
For example, Stephen Wiltshire, an artist with autism, drew the entire city-state of Singapore from memory after a 30-minute helicopter ride. Check out this amazing video!
Some people have a higher likelihood than others of receiving a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.
There is also a range of behaviors associated with autism; it doesn’t just look like one thing. Because these behaviors are shared by various neurodivergent diagnoses, it can be hard to tell whether a person has autism or something else. There is a 65-item assessment called the Social Responsiveness Scale™, Second Edition (SRS ™- now referred to SRS-2), which can help provide some clarity.
SRS-2 measures and distinguishes autism spectrum behaviors on a scale of how severely these conditions impact a person with autism in social settings. The results of an SRS-2 assessment are expressed as a number, called a T-score.
While a T-Score is expressed as a number on a linear scale, the autism spectrum isn’t actually linear. There is variety within autism and how it presents in different individual people with autism. This is why it’s helpful that the SRS-2 gives people with autism scores for “treatment subscales,” or categories of social impact. These subscales allow the SRS-2 to independently measure the extent the following:
Some people with autism exhibit only a few observable signs of autism, such as sensitivity to textures or an incredible memory. Others may be entirely nonverbal. Having scores from these assessments equip people with autism and caregivers to advocate for more individualized accommodations and support.
Here’s are some more quick facts to uplevel your understanding of people with autism:
So those are some stats and data, and here’s a video by Dr. Kerry Magro, one of the actual people with autism behind the numbers:
Having a child with autism can put tremendous pressure on families. Parents must manage meltdowns, make sure their child’s environment is not causing sensory overload, facilitate healthcare interventions, arrange for special education needs, and be an advocate for their child. Doing this while sleep deprived adds an additional layer of difficulty even the German judge would award bonus points for if parenting were an Olympic sport (it totally should be).
Early diagnosis can help with intervention measures that will benefit the child’s development. Parents must research a broad range of treatment options and utilize trial and error to determine what is most beneficial for their child.
Specific interventions range from medications, speech pathology, occupational therapy for physical skills development, positive behavior support, incidental teaching, applied behavior analysis (ABA), early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI), and many others.
As children start attending school, parents also must research accommodations that may benefit their child in a new learning environment. Accommodations help unlock the potential of a child with autism by optimizing their participation in the educational environment within the general education setting.
Parents and families of children who have autism do have access to support systems. Support can range from family therapy, joining support groups with other parents of children with autism, and leveraging support systems provided by the government.
This support not only gives the family critical resources they need to navigate challenges, but also allows people with autism to develop skills to more comfortably travel through a world engineered for “neurotypical” success.
An estimated 2.21% of adults in the United States have ASD. Most forms of autism are diagnosed by the age of 4; however, individuals who are considered high functioning may not be diagnosed until much later. Some adults with autism may experience only mild symptoms which are often confused with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Signs of autism in adults involve challenges in social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication, and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors.
At a more granular level, this may show up to others as clumsiness, difficulty making close friends, discomfort with eye contact, hyperfocus on a particular topic, challenges regulating emotions and reading the emotions of others, using a monotone voice, social anxiety, relying on routines, and the need to arrange items in a particular order.
If you experience any of these signs or are curious to learn more, take this Self-Test for identifying Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults.
Autistic individuals have superpowers- talents far more rarely found in neurotypical individuals. Celebrating these unique gifts in children and adults with autism can significantly impact the societal stereotypes and stigmas associated with this diagnosis. Don’t leave these gifts unopened; create inclusive and supportive environments for people with autism to maximize their impact.
From an early age, you may notice a child with autism taking a deep interest in the most minute details. This excellent attention to detail is a tremendous asset in a learning environment.
Children and adults with autism exhibit thought processes which are analytical. They can easily spot patterns, which is one reason many people with autism excel in music, science and math.
People with autism easily absorb and retain facts. They have a long-term memory which can greatly aid in overcoming other challenges associated with learning.
People with autism are often very direct in their communication without inhibitions about speaking their mind. No games, just communication.
Individuals with autism have to overcome daily challenges that would make your head spin. They develop that “overcoming” muscle throughout their whole lives. People with autism exhibit strength and determination to succeed. They also challenge opinions, even in the learning setting. Their incredible fighting spirit raises the bar for all of us.
Adults with autism can succeed in most working environments with the necessary support. With accommodations, people with autism can show their special abilities in areas such as accounting because of their enhanced capabilities with numbers.
Many individuals with autism have excelled in the workplace in fields which require creativity, sharp memories, methodical approaches, and keen observational skills. The best workplaces provide reasonable accommodations such as:
Examples of specific accommodations under these classifications include reserved parking, flexible work schedules, adjustments to products, equipment, or software, improving accessibility in a work area, and changing job tasks, just to mention a few.
Although the term autism was coined in 1912, and used as a descriptor of symptoms in 1943, it was 1980 before it was established as its own diagnosis distinct from schizophrenia.
As a result, there are many “armchair experts” diagnosing historical figures with autism without specific testing. Some examples include Albert Einstein, Michelangelo and Thomas Jefferson. There is also speculation that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would fall on the spectrum.
Disregarding speculation, there are several famous people who have been formally diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum:
People with autism perform best in roles that take advantage of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Actually, we all do, right? Structure is a must. We do not recommend roles that require a high level of interpersonal work.
Here are some examples of occupations where someone on the autism spectrum can thrive.
Working with Animals – veterinary technician, groomer, obedience trainer, dog walker or pet sitter, or possibly a vet. People with autism have special bonds with animals.
Researcher – journalist, reference librarian, title abstractor, fact-checker, genealogist or research assistant.
Accounting – forensic accountant, CPA, tax preparation specialist, bookkeeper, billing specialist and accounts payable clerk.
Manufacturing – machinist, baker, fabricator, machine operator, woodworker, assembler or welder.
IT – network engineer, web developer, web designer, software engineer and database administrator.
Engineering – civil, chemical, electrical, biomedical or mechanical engineering.
Our friends with autism live in the moment without constraints caused by social expectations. There are no head games, and they are far less concerned with prestige and status.
These individuals have integrity, and they demonstrate this in their behavior through honesty, loyalty and commitment. They are also less likely to judge others, which makes them more open to diversity in society. Don’t they deserve the same?
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